Holmegaard bow

The Holmegaard bows are a series of self bows found in the bogs of Northern Europe dating from the Mesolithic period.[1] They are named after the Holmegaard area of Denmark in which the first and oldest specimens were found, and are the oldest bows discovered anywhere in the world.


The shape of the Holmegaard bows is their distinctive feature, having wide, parallel limbs and a biconvex midsection with the tips ending in a point. The handle is deep, narrow and remains stiff while the bow is drawn. The bows are generally between 150 and 170 cm in length and less than 6 cm wide.[1] The oldest specimens are made of elm and some of the more recent examples are made of yew. The tiller of a Holmegaard style bow is more circular than that of a longbow since only the inner limbs are bending.[2][3]

An example of a Holmegaard type bow.
A closeup of the handle.


Initially, the Holmegaard bows were believed to have been made "backwards", that is with wood removed from the back and the belly made convex.[1] This may be the result of a comparison with the English Longbow that has a flat back and a convex belly. Many successful replicas were made in this fashion even though working the back of the bow cuts the wood fibres and endangers the bow.

Subsequent analysis suggested the back may have instead been convex with the flattened surface being the belly. This is far more efficient for woods like elm which are relatively strong in tension. The compression strain on the belly is evenly distributed on the flat surface which reduces string follow.[3] The yew bows are generally narrower, yew being better suited for narrow bows than elm.[1]

The length of the bow as well as the stiff outer limbs contribute to having a low string angle at the tips. This reduces stacking: the exponential increase in draw weight at longer draw lengths. A lower stacking bow is smoother to draw.[4]


The Holmegaard bow can shoot an arrow faster and farther due to the light, long and stiff outer limbs that act as levers when propelling the arrow. This is the same principle that explains why a dart can be propelled faster from an Atlatl than from throwing alone.

Holmegaard style bows are very commonly used at flight archery competitions. For flight bows, an optimum between the length of the stiff tips and the draw force of the bow is desired. If the outer limbs are too long, their weight exceeds the capacity of the energy stored in inner limbs. The outer limbs can also become unstable if made too thin. In modern Holmegaard-style bows, the outer limbs are much thicker than the inner limbs to prevent the outer limbs from bending excessively.[5]

The original specimens were not finished for such high performance. There is even doubt as to whether the biconvex shape of the mid-limbs is due to poor preservation in the bogs. The more recent Holmegaards do not have well defined "shoulders" at all and have more semblance to the American flatbow.[6]

Because of the wide working limbs, Holmegaard bows can be made from more common, lower density woods such as maple, ash, oak and elm.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Comstock, P (1992). Ancient European Bows, pp. 87-88. The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 2. The Lyons Press, 1992. ISBN 1-58574-086-1
  2. La Varenne, D (2005). Tillering the Holmegaard bow, http://www.fiarc.org/public/Forum/Data/jeval/2005102714414_Tillering%20the%20Holmegaard%20Bow-2.pdf , June 29, 2009.
  3. 1 2 Baker, T (1994). Bows of the World, pp. 45-46. The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 3. The Lyons Press, 1994. ISBN 1-58574-087-X
  4. Baker, T (1992). Bow Design and Performance, page 68-71. The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 1. The Lyons Press, 1992. ISBN 1-58574-085-3
  5. Perry, D (2008). Flight Bows, page 165. The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 4. The Lyons Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9645741-6-8
  6. Lansac, P Les arcs de Holmegaard, http://www.archerie-primitive.com/articles/arcs-holmegaard.htm , Archerie Primitive(French), June 29, 2009.

External links

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